Thursday, 10 February 2011

Parking, fairness & health - will the Council join the dots?

For a Council engaged in a Fairness commission, Islington is doing a strange job of ignoring the impact of its policies on health inequality.  Last Aug, prompted by the revelation that Islington has the sixth worst air quality in London, Islington Green Party encouraged residents to respond to the Mayor's consultation on Transport policy, telling him to maintain policies that decrease car use.

The Islington Gazette has just woken up to the impact of vehicle emissions related poor air quality in Islington - front page today and has made the link with the destructive new council parking schemes to increase the number of short trips by car in the borough.  Reducing the number of cars on our densely congested roads creates a safer more pleasant street-scape, encourages walking & cycling and reduces the pollution in the air we are breathing.

The Council's Fairness Commission is meeting next week to discuss health inequality, but the discussion is confined to smoking, mental health and diet.  By avoiding the elephants in the room that are increased car use, poor air quality and more sedentary lifestyles, the Commission is missing a whole raft of ways that the Council could support residents' health.  Cancelling the residents' Roamer Parking scheme and the scheme for unlimited visitor parking vouchers would be an easy step to support residents to incorporate more active travel into their daily lives and to improve the quality of the air we breathe.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Recycling follow up

Last November the Islington Gazette reported that the Council was going to introduce compulsory recycling. We were delighted that Islington were minimising rubbish sent to landfill but felt that a "carrot not stick" approach would be more successful - see my letter to the Gazette.

It looks as if the Council may have listened. I arrived home this afternoon to find a motivational message attached to my food waste recycling box, thanking me for recycling and encouraging me to continue. Praise where praise is due, well done Islington.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Cuts and Consultation

In December 2010, news reports suggested that jobs were under threat at Islington's Ecology Centre and Gillespie Park local nature reserve.

The Friends of Gillespie Park have been around for as long as the Park itself - 25 years this year. The park exists because of a community campaign to 'save the sidings' which resulted in the park - then a railway siding- being transferred to the Council for just one pound, for the benefit of the community.

The Friends have been pressing the Council to tell them what is proposed for the park and Ecology Centre, amidst fears that job cuts could make the park less safe. But the new Executive member for the Environment, Paul Smith, failed even to answer their emails.

When the draft budget was published, it showed £750,000 being slashed from the sustainability budget, which includes the Ecology Centre.

On Tuesday, at an emergency meeting with the Friends and concerned local residents, the Council was again pressed to consult the Friends on what was proposed. The response from the new Council leader, Catherine West, was that the Council could 'no longer afford' to consult people - it was, she said, too expensive.

But consultation doesn't need to mean glossy brochures or expensive consultants. Consultation simply means talking to the people involved at an early stage when all the options are still on the table, and taking their thoughts into account when you reach your view. Done properly, in a case like this, it will probably cost nothing at all - and the Friends' twenty-five years knowledge and experience of the Park will be invaluable in finding suitable ways to safeguard it now for future generations to enjoy.

I'm glad to say that Council officers have now agreed to meet the Friends to explore the options. With any luck this will be a constructive process and the decisions ultimately reached will be the best that they can be in the difficult circumstances we are now facing.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Trees for all!

Recent reports that street trees could fall victim to cuts were brought a step closer to home when I attended Islington Council's Overview Committee to listen to a debate about the new Tree Policy.

The new administration is determined to tear up the work done by the previous administration (their political opponents) and by local residents, and has reduced the trees policy to just 2 pages.

Cllr Paul Smith is the new (Labour party) executive member for the environment. His speech to the committee on trees was revealing. Cllr Smith believes that while trees 'may be a big issue in the more fortunate parts of the Borough', they are not a big issue elsewhere - for example, on council estates.

But is this right? Surely, people living in areas of greater social deprivation are the ones who need trees the most - and who suffer most when their physical environment is degraded. People living in cramped accommodation, without gardens, rely on access to parks and other green spaces. And the majority of residents in the Borough who don't have cars can't easily drive further afield to enjoy the benefits for their health, wellbeing, and peace of mind offered by our forests. Most of all, isn't it patronising to assume that people only worry about trees if they are middle class?

Cllr Smith told us last night that in these straitened financial times we couldn't afford to be spending 'lots of money on paper'. Well, we'd certainly agree that lengthy documents are a waste of paper (and trees) - and the previous policy (at 69 pages) was rather wordy - but I'm not sure that cuts in the Council budget should mean any lesser degree of protection for our trees (especially now that we can ill afford to replace them).

Today, the Council has published its budget proposals for the coming year. There's a lot of detail there which we're only just beginning to analyse, but they've already announced that tree officers will be lost.

And on top of that a whopping 3/4 of a million pounds will be wiped off the sustainability budget. Apparently, the Council plans to "realign sustainability priorities to energy efficiency and resident focus". It also plans to use the Ecology Centre to provide "services in line with [the] fairness agenda". If I find out what that means, I'll let you know!